Mentally ill, homeless hurt by zoning bylaws

Ontario municipalities are discriminating against the mentally ill, the homeless and other disadvantaged groups through their zoning bylaws, says a Toronto urban planner who has released a research paper on the issue, reported the Toronto Star Feb. 15. Restrictive bylaws that have been in municipal official plans for years allow neighbourhoods to oppose new group homes for psychiatric survivors and others struggling to find affordable housing and should be wiped off the books, said Lilith Finkler (MES ’03), who presented her research at an international conference on planning law and property rights in Warsaw this week.  

Her paper comes two weeks after a group of mentally ill Torontonians launched a human rights case against Liberal MPP Tony Ruprecht (Davenport) for saying his west Toronto community has enough "crazed individuals" roaming the streets and can’t support another supportive housing development, said the Star.  

The Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, which is representing the group, hopes Finkler’s research along with the activism of disabled people themselves will help to outlaw restrictive group-home bylaws. 

Finkler’s research found that of Ontario’s 45 largest municipalities, 42 have group-home bylaws. Of those, 35 also have "minimum separation distance bylaws" for group homes. It means group homes cannot locate within a certain distance of another group home or supportive housing development. Distances range from 75 metres in St. Thomas, Ont., to 245 metres in Toronto and 800 metres in Mississauga.  

Both provincial and municipal politicians have justified restrictive zoning for group homes as a way of encouraging community acceptance and to ensure no neighbourhood has too many. It might sound reasonable, but when you consider who lives in this housing, it smacks of discrimination, Finkler said. The bylaws are regularly used by residents to bar the homeless and psychiatric survivors from their neighbourhoods and to support the kind of discrimination displayed by Ruprecht’s comments to Toronto’s committee of adjustment last August, she said. He has since apologized. 

Universities tempted by land-sale dollars

It’s enough to make you cry, but even an institution as august as the University of Toronto has been reduced to behaviour that would make the worst corporate money-grubber blush, wrote Christopher Hume in the Toronto Star Feb. 15. Such is the lure of $100 million; not even U of T can resist. That’s how much the university could raise by selling the 77 hectares it owns in Richmond Hill. Too bad the site includes the venerable David Dunlap Observatory.  

Given the extent of its need, who would blame U of T’s decision to sell out? Several years ago, York University sold land at the south end of its sprawling campus for a subdivision, the same suburban fate that awaits the Richmond Hill site of the observatory. York needed money, too. Perhaps it’s wrong to hold universities to a higher standard, especially now that they can no longer afford it, wrote Hume. In their struggle to survive, they have become exactly what they were never meant to be – coarse, venal and worldly in the worst sense of the word.

Pals rally round York U student in bid to buy new sax

A third-year York University music student is singing a sour note after her locker was broken into and her beloved alto saxophone stolen, reported the Toronto Sun Feb. 15. Lauren Barnett was hesitant to leave the instrument in a locker on Feb. 4 when she heard that a French horn, violin and another sax were stolen last year, but figured it’d be safe because she was only grabbing a bite to eat with friends. She returned to pick up her stuff an hour later to find her sax gone. "I kind of freaked out," said Barnett, 20. "There wasn’t any signs of force that I could see. Security said there aren’t surveillance cameras in that room, which is silly."  

The stolen brass horn has piqued concern about security for other music students. So much so that several started a Facebook group to support Barnett and raise money to help her buy a new sax. York University spokesman Keith Marnoch said the school is continuing to investigate. "We’re still in the midst of interviewing people," he said.  

New “Oh So Cosmo” show features York grad

Scarborough native Jacqui Skeete is living out her dreams, wrote the Scarborough Mirror Feb. 14. Last night, the local resident made her debut as an on-air reporter for “Oh So Cosmo”, the flagship magazine program for the all-new Cosmopolitan TV. "It’s my first big break. This is exactly what I want to do," said Skeete, a 2004 graduate of York University’s Theatre Program. "Acting and filmmaking are my passions and this (opportunity) is the perfect merging of the two," said the bubbly 26-year-old television personality. Skeete, who hails from the Warden Avenue and Bridletown Circle area, said "Oh So Cosmo" is "the ultimate guide for the single girl" with segments on men, sex, relationships and fashion.